How did you first get started in the travel insurance industry, and how did you come to be in your current role of President and CEO of AIG Travel?
After working in the airline business for the first 12 years of my career, I knew that I loved travel and wanted to continue working in the travel industry. When the opportunity to work in travel insurance at AIG, one of the largest insurers in the world, presented itself, I knew it would be the chance to stay in travel while also moving into a truly global company.
I started at AIG in 1999, first leading the global e-commerce business development for travel insurance and then managing AIG’s travel business in Asia. In 2006, AIG Travel, Inc. acquired the Travel Guard Group companies, and the global CEO role was offered to me. It was a great opportunity to lead the integration of the numerous investments that AIG had made in travel insurance and technology, going all the way back to when the first policy was sold in Hong Kong in 1937, with the delivery of world-class assistance and claims servicing. But most of all, I saw it as an opportunity, along with our amazing team, to do what I love by helping people restore their journeys every day. And it has been exciting, exhausting and everything in between.
You’ve been with AIG for 20 years now, and have been President and CEO of AIG Travel since 2006 – what are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen in the industry over that time?
The challenge 20 years ago was the lack of broad consumer awareness and understanding about what the travel insurance product is and how it actually benefits travellers. It’s been encouraging to see consumer awareness increase somewhat around the globe. However, due to the voluntary purchase aspect of our product and differences in healthcare regimes in origin markets, there is still a broad lack of and divergent understanding of the product with consumers and applicable governing bodies in most jurisdictions. We are still constantly explaining what it is that we do. While it seems very intuitive when you say ‘travel insurance’, it’s not. I would have hoped, as an industry, we would have progressed more in the past 20 years, at least to the point where we have a common and accurate view of the product across all governments and jurisdictions … but I remain hopeful that a common and global awareness will increase at a much faster pace over the next 20 years.
You have written in the past about the importance of harnessing new technology to improve the personalisation of insurance products. Consumer desire for agile, personalised products is only increasing – do you think the industry is meeting their needs?
While we are seeing good examples of innovative products and technologies focused on personalisation emerging across the industry, my personal impatience with our collective progress as an industry is also increasing, which may be a sign of my age! We are an industry that will likely always have to run faster and with more determination than other industries when it comes to bringing innovations to market at the ever-increasing speed of customer expectations. The products that we manufacture, particularly in markets that require filed rates and/or forms, create high barriers to entry and often regulatory mandated adjustments by jurisdictions. Therefore, it can be challenging for some really great and innovative ideas to find traction at an individual personalised benefit level – or even at a market or on a global scale – because of the limitations inherent in an insurance product that requires an underlying risk pool at scale in order to be sustainable over time. But we nevertheless have to keep on challenging ourselves to innovate and manufacture products in line with customer expectations, and to work with our regulators around our common objective to both meet customer expectations and protect their interests.
What technological advancements do you think will be particularly game-changing for travel insurance over the next few years?
Game-changing technology advancements for the travel insurance industry will likely be centred on those that continue to evolve interconnectivity of all travel systems coupled with a more active utilisation of AI. Travellers expect every supplier that they engage on any journey, including travel insurance products and assistance services, to seamlessly support them by anticipating and resolving their concerns. In order to truly meet those expectations in a meaningful way, it will require a focused industry approach. No single company, market or distribution partner will ever have the capacity to fully meet these expectations globally. Just as we are collectively able to provide emergency medical evacuation services to our customers because of the open networks of air ambulance providers, which have aircraft immediately near where we need for them to be, open sourced technologies and/or ‘non-competitive data’ exchange platforms have the potential to advance our collective industry.
I would have hoped, as an industry, we would have progressed more in the past 20 years … but I remain hopeful that a common and global awareness will increase at a much faster pace over the next 20 years
AIG Travel entered into a partnership with Expedia last year. What was the impetus behind this decision? Are there new partnerships of this kind in the pipeline?
We greatly appreciate and value our global partnership with the Expedia Group, as well as all of our travel industry partners. Integrated travel insurance distribution via online travel agents and airlines has raised consumer awareness of travel insurance on a global basis as millions of travellers are consistently given the opportunity to consider buying travel insurance, a phenomenon which has benefited our entire industry and also increased sales via other distribution channels. We are always talking to potential new partners, and hope to add more flagship brands to our partner list in the upcoming year.
There has been much discussion recently about the importance of insurers reaching out to under-served groups, such as those with disabilities. What is AIG Travel doing to make sure that its offering is inclusive for all?
AIG Travel has been working to reach underserved groups for the past several years, including women, the LGBTQ+ community, students and vulnerable travellers, through our award-winning travel safety campaigns. These campaigns offer tips, tools and guidance that help ensure all travellers are prepared to face any challenges or barriers they may experience while travelling.
In addition, we are always looking for ways to make sure our products are evolving with the needs of our customers. For example, in the US, we now offer the Name Your Family bundle that allows a traveller to name who will be deemed as a family member for the purpose of family-related unforeseen events. The option to name your own family is something that greatly benefits all travellers, but may be especially important to the LGBTQ+ community. There is also a Pet Bundle available, which provides a daily benefit for boarding and medical coverage for illness of a dog or cat while travelling, which would be an extra layer of comfort for those who have service animals.
AIG Travel was named International Travel / Health Insurer of the Year at this year’s ITIJ Awards. How does it feel to have won this award?
We are truly honoured to receive this recognition for the second time, and we are very grateful to ITIJ for its ongoing advocacy for the industry, bringing everyone together and challenging us all to be better. As we compete with many other companies in our space, we are aware of how critically important it is to work across our industry to increase consumer awareness in every jurisdiction and to work together for a common regulatory framework that meets our common objective to provide value to consumers.
Can you describe a typical day as President and CEO, if there is such a thing?
What I love about my job is that there isn’t a typical day, but every day is interesting and exciting in a different way. I enjoy meeting and spending time with our partners to talk about innovation and how we can further transform the travel insurance space as the world around us changes. The most serious and challenging aspect of my daily work is dealing with the complex regulations that we deal with as an industry, and ensuring that we are able to continue to build and offer the products that travellers need. I also travel hundreds of thousands of miles a year, so the most consistent part of my life is airport security, airline lounges, long-haul flights, seeking the fastest ways through immigration lines and again ending up in baggage claim! But that is part of what I love about what I do – engaging in different cultures and spending time with my colleagues around the world who help travellers with minor travel inconveniences and life-threatening situations each and every day.
If you could invite any three people, from any time in history, to a dream dinner party, who would you choose?
I would invite Marco Polo, Amelia Earhart and Neil Armstrong to dinner. I would ask them to explain what drove them to explore in the first place, why they picked those destinations and where they would want to go on their next journey? ■